“I had an arrow in my heart this week.”  Marisela’s comment surprised me. Our Sunday School lesson was about the poisonous “arrows” that Satan uses to attack our hearts: pride, anger, rejection, shame, fear, and depression. These are tough concepts for an eight-year-old girl to grasp, especially a girl from an Eastern European immigrant family with little or no Christian background.

“What happened?” I asked Marisela gently. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“My best friend at school said she was going to sit with me, and then she didn’t sit with me,” Marisela continued, her voice full of injury. “She didn’t sit with me all week. And she acted like she wasn’t my friend. But she’s my best friend!”

“How did that make you feel?” I prodded.

Marisela didn’t hesitate. “Rejected.”

“What did you do about it?”

“I acted like I didn’t care.” Her voice betrayed her resignation.

“But it did hurt, didn’t it?” I asked. She nodded silently, and my heart went out to this sensitive young girl who’d been wounded by a careless friend.

Guard Your Heart…

Using the booklet Is My Heart A Happy Heart? I shared with Marisela and the rest of the class how God wants to remove those arrows in our hearts. We began the process of identifying the one who’s hurt us and describing how it affected our hearts.  I explained that in the next few weeks we’d learn about pouring out our hearts to the Lord, releasing the pain to Him, and finally being able to forgive that other person.

Marisela listened attentively, her round brown eyes fixed on mine. When I gave them time to begin writing in their booklets, she worked intently and seriously. Later as we recited the month’s memory verse, Marisela joined the other children with a joyful smile. I know that God is at work in this little girl’s heart, and I’m confident that the arrow of rejection is coming out!

Above all else,” the students chorused, “Guard your hearts! For it is the WELLSPRING of LIFE! Proverbs 4:23!”

Going vertical!
MJ

If anyone had the right to bear a grudge, it was Joseph.

From favored son to despised slave in the house of an Egyptian official – Joseph must have wondered what he had done to deserve this.  His father’s lavish attentions had stirred up a burning jealousy in his eleven brothers, who attacked Joseph and sold him to Egyptian slave traders.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Joseph was then wrongly accused of something he didn’t do and thrown into prison!

“I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews,” Joseph related to a fellow prisoner, “and here also I have done nothing that should have put me into the dungeon” (Gen. 40:15).  Rejected and abandoned by his family, alone and forgotten by the world, Joseph could have sunk into despair and self-pity.

Not A Victim

But Joseph refused to be a victim, trusting instead that God had not abandoned him. We see that “the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love… whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (Gen. 39:21).  Joseph was eventually released from prison and promoted to second-in-command over the entire nation of Egypt!

The day came when Joseph’s brothers, facing starvation because of a severe famine, came to Egypt seeking food.  When Joseph revealed his identity, his brothers feared he would take revenge.  As the second most powerful leader in Egypt, he could have had his brothers enslaved or killed.

“What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” they worried (Gen. 50:15).  Nervously the brothers pleaded for forgiveness.

Weeping and embracing his brothers, this slave-turned-official assured his brothers that he had already forgiven them.  “Do not be afraid!” Joseph told his brothers. “Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Gen.50:20).

How about you?  Are you allowing yourself to be a victim of your circumstances?  Are you giving in to hopelessness and despair?  Choose today to forgive those who have hurt you, trusting as Joseph did that God has a greater purpose than we can see.  Forgive and release your pain to the Father.  If you let Him, He will use even the lowest points in your life for His good!

Going vertical!

MJ

Walter was excited.  The thirteen-year-old boy was looking forward to a holiday with his family. They were in the United Kingdom, far from his home in East Asia.  As soon as they dropped off his sister at her boarding school, the fun would begin.  Or so he thought.

Abandoned

Instead of going to see Big Ben or the Tower of London, however, Walter’s father took him instead to a set of imposing brick buildings – another boarding school.  Confused and distressed, he realized that this had been the plan all along.  As his parents left to return home to East Asia, a deep sense of abandonment settled over the young boy.

Rejected.  Unprotected.  Helpless.  Abandoned.  Walter was devastated.  “I’ll never be out of control again,” he vowed to himself.  The pain festered into anger and rebellion.  He started getting into trouble in class, even pretending to be Muslim so he wouldn’t have to go to chapel, eventually getting  kicked out of school.  The anger towards his parents, particularly his father, lasted for years.

When Walter attended our Fresh Start seminar in East Asia this January, he recognized right away that he needed to forgive his father.  Thoughtfully and deliberately, he went through the steps of “Processing the Issues of Your Heart” over two days.  After asking the Lord to forgive him for his anger and rebellion, and renouncing the vow of trying to be in control of his life, Walter was finally able to forgive his father for abandoning him at that boarding school so many years ago.

Healing

Though Walter said this was the first time he had shared these feelings with anyone, his heart was ready for a change, and the process was quick and effective.  Not only did he receive healing for himself, but he also took a booklet home to help his wife go through the process, as well as the children’s version, “Is My Heart a Happy Heart?” for his four-year-old daughter.

“Yesterday I prayed for compassion,” Walter wrote in a note to one of our team members on the first day of the Fresh Start seminar, “and you are the answer to my prayer.”

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

Going vertical!
MJ

“How long ago did you injure your foot?”  Ken, the tall volleyball player, was talking with me after one of our Fresh Start East Asia seminars.  It had been a long day, and I was exhausted.  I was weary of limping through the snow-covered streets.  I was tired of lagging behind everyone else.  My whole body ached from trying to protect my sprained foot, wrapped in ace bandages and encased in my special walking boot.

When Ken heard that it had been over a month since my injury, he shook his head in disbelief.  “You know, when I play volleyball, I often twist my ankle or sprain my foot.  But I’m usually playing again in just two weeks.”

I was amazed.  “How do you do it?”

“First of all, you need to get rid of that boot,” he instructed.  “You can’t protect your foot forever, or the muscles will get weak from lack of use.  It’s time to put some pressure on it.”

Ken then showed me how to stretch until I get to a point where it hurts, and then push even more.  He demonstrated how I should massage the foot, concentrating on the tender spots.  “It will be painful, but you have to be willing to press into the pain if you really want to get better.”

Healed Through Pain

It was counter-intuitive.  Stretch until it hurts?  Press into the pain?  Every instinct told me to avoid pain at all costs.  Reluctantly, I followed Ken’s advice.  And slowly, my foot started to get stronger.  By the end of the 17-day East Asia trip, I was walking quickly, keeping pace with my teammates, and even jogging up the stairs!

Sometimes I treat my heart the way I treated my sprained foot.  When I’ve experienced pain or loss, I want to wrap up and protect my heart so that no one can hurt me again. Everything in me resists dragging up those stinging memories and ugly emotions.  But if I’ll allow Him, the Holy Spirit goes in deep to reveal what needs to be healed.  And the Father gently massages those tender areas where I’ve been wounded.  He helps me to stand and walk again, getting stronger as I step into forgiveness and freedom.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Hebrews 4:12 NIV

Going vertical!

MJ

Lisa couldn’t sleep.  It was the middle of the night, but she kept thinking about the hurtful comments she heard earlier that day at a Fresh Start seminar in East Asia.  Several people criticized her for being so transparent when she shared her testimony about how God was working in her marriage relationship.

“You’re not honoring your husband!”

“A wife shouldn’t talk about her marriage like that!”

“That’s not how we do things in our culture.” 

“You’re bringing shame to your family!”

So she tossed and turned, the condemning words echoing in her head.  Lisa felt as if she had a blanket covering her head, with the word “SHAME” written over her forehead.  The verbal attacks seemed to grow louder and stronger.  She felt condemned to be stoned, as in biblical times.

Suddenly, Lisa saw a picture of Jesus coming to her, in the midst of the angry, accusing voices.  Gently and lovingly, He removed the blanket of shame from her head.  She recalled Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery who was going to be stoned.  “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you? …Neither do I condemn you.” (John 8:10-11)

The next morning there was radiant joy on Lisa’s face when she shared her experience with the Fresh Start team.  “I realized I was giving too much power to others to judge me,” she explained.  “There is only one Judge – Jesus!  I don’t need to defend myself or fight back against others’ accusations.  Jesus is my Advocate, and He’s taken my shame away!”

“I sought the LORD, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:4-5)

Going vertical!
MJ

“It’s my father’s fault that my mother died when I was twelve years old,” Mrs. Wang said bitterly, wiping away a stream of tears.  It was late one night in the second city of our East Asia trip, and Mrs. Wang was sharing with some of the Fresh Start team her heart-wrenching story of a childhood with a distant, abusive father.

“He beat my mother.  And He beat my brothers and me.  He didn’t provide for the family.  He didn’t love us.  My mother had a bitter life, raising eight children, and my father didn’t help her.  That’s why she got sick and died!”  The pain was clearly very deep.

“Was your father wrong?” asked Pastor Steve gently.  Pausing to reflect, Mrs. Wang answered slowly, “Not really.  He couldn’t help it.  He grew up in a family that didn’t show love to him.  So he didn’t know how to love.”

“What is our Heavenly Father like?” prodded Pastor Steve.  “Is He loving?  Is He kind?  Does He provide for our needs?” Nodding, Mrs. Wang quickly replied, “Oh, yes!”

The Gap

“Then, is there a gap between what our Heavenly Father is like, and what your earthly father was like?  God is loving – your father was not loving.  God is kind – your father was abusive.  And God provides for our needs – your father did not provide for your family.  That’s the gap.  That’s what you need to forgive.”

For more than forty years, Mrs. Wang had protected her father’s reputation, excusing his behavior and burying her pain.  But when she was able to admit that her father was wrong and how his behavior hurt her, she could start the process that would lead to forgiveness.

Who’s in your gap? In our relationships with others, there’s always a gap between our perfect Heavenly Father’s character – and the actions and attitudes of imperfect human beings.  Whether it’s a big gap or a small gap, there’s always a gap.  Be honest with yourself and with God.  Identify who or what is in the gap.  Allow His Holy Spirit to help you get started on the path to freedom!

“Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.”  Psalm 26:2

Going vertical!

MJ

Flying down the snowy hill, I clung tightly to the edges of the cardboard box, preparing myself for a crash landing at the bottom.  I was already regretting my decision, but it was too late to turn back now.  What on earth made me think it was a good idea to go sledding with a recently sprained foot?

Just a week ago, I was hopping around on crutches. I’d fallen down some cement steps in Germany and pulling a tendon in my right foot.  But this thirteen-inch snowfall over Christmas was the most snow Virginia Beach had seen in twenty years, and I didn’t want to miss the rare opportunity for some winter fun with my family.  “My foot’s almost back to normal,” I told myself. “It’ll be fine”.  I felt like I was ten years old as I slid down the hill again and again with the icy wind in my face, landing in a sprawling heap at the bottom.

By the time I finally returned home, however, and peeled off my snow-encrusted shoes, my foot was complaining at the mistreatment.  The soreness and swelling was a painful reminder that it hadn’t completely healed yet.  Going sledding at this stage of recovery had not been the wisest choice.

The experience made me think of a conversation I’d had a few weeks earlier in Germany with Pastor Chris, a teacher at the Bible school where I was serving as a volunteer.  He asked how my experiences these last few months in Germany differed from the four years I worked with an Asian ministry in China.  To my embarrassment, I started crying as I talked about the supportive, encouraging atmosphere in Germany, and the leaders who trusted me to make good decisions.  It was very different from the authoritarian, hierarchical Asian system, where I was expected to do as I was told and not ask questions, even when I was struggling with physical exhaustion and emotional burnout.

Slow Healing

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” I apologized, blowing my nose.  “It’s been two and a half years since I’ve come home from China.  I thought I was over these issues.”

“Sometimes the healing process takes longer than we expect,”
Pastor Chris responded gently.  “You have to allow time for the Lord to complete the work in you.  And it seems this time in Germany is part of that process.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God makes everything beautiful “in His time.”  God’s timing is not always according to my preferred schedule.  My impatience to hurry up the healing process and “get on with my life” can slow down the recovery even more!  Just like my sprained foot needs time to heal and get strong, so the emotional healing God is doing in me will take time.  But I know He’s at work, and I know His timing is best!

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.Philippians 1:6 (New Living Translation)

Going vertical!

MJ

Sleep is something I don’t take for granted.  Even with my trusted eye mask and ear plugs, I have a lot of trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.  Night-time is when my fears and anxieties plague me the most.  Often I lie awake in bed for hours, staring at the ceiling, trying desperately to turn off my racing brain.

Recently a German friend told me about a period of her life when she was extremely anxious and depressed.  For weeks she didn’t sleep any more than a few minutes at a time.  “When you sleep, it’s the one time you’re completely out of control,” my friend explained.  “I couldn’t relax because I didn’t want to be out of control of my life.”

What is the real cause of my sleeplessness?  Are my anxious thoughts the result of trying to run my own life?  It’s easy to say “give it over to God,” but how do I actually do that?

Finding Peace

In Psalm 4:8 David says, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.” David was running for his life from enemies that wanted to kill him!  How could he lie down and sleep in peace?  With danger all around him, David chose to put his trust in the Lord.  His peace came from releasing control of his life to God.

I’m going to try a new strategy at night now.  Along with my ear plugs and eye mask, I’ll employ David’s technique for sleeping soundly.  If an anxious thought is keeping my awake, I’ll identify it and surrender it to the Lord, declaring that I trust Him with my life, and that I give Him control of my future.  Only then can I say with David, “in peace I will lie down and sleep.”

Going vertical!

MJ

wedding-ringAnyone entering the ladies’ bathroom of the small Chicago church that day would have wondered at the sniffling sounds coming from under the counter next to the sink.  Curled up in the corner, I was having some private time with Jesus in the only place I could find an escape.

This was supposed to be a time of celebration – my cousin’s wedding.  The Father had brought a wonderful godly man into her life, and I was genuinely happy for both of them.  But it was a bittersweet time as I was still grieving the death of my maternal grandmother, who had passed away a year earlier.  My heart ached as I imagined how excited she would have been to see her oldest granddaughter walk down the aisle.

In all the commotion of gathering relatives, I struggled to mask my inner turmoil of emotions.  Not long after my grandmother’s funeral, I had ended a serious relationship, and I was still dealing with the effects of that difficult decision.  As I set up tables and decorated for the reception, feelings of jealousy and self-pity threatened to smother me.  “What about me?  When is it MY turn, Lord?”

The noisy chatter and hectic rushing around of aunts, uncles, and cousins during the church rehearsal was starting to make me feel claustrophobic.  Finally I took refuge in the only quiet place I could find – the ladies’ restroom.  Seeing that it was empty, I crawled into the tiny space under the counter, hugged my knees to my chest, and cried.

Flipping my Bible open, my eyes fell on Psalm 4:1, “You gave me room when I was in my distress.”  I knew the Lord was speaking directly to me.  I poured out my grief, loss, and pain to Jesus, and waited for His peace.  And He met me there.  He reminded me that He had not forgotten me.  He gave me the strength to dry my eyes, take a deep breath, and go out to join the festivities with a smile.

In the years since then, the Lord has provided room when I’ve needed it most – a tiny bedroom in Asia that I didn’t have to share with anyone, a guest room in my friends’ house in Hong Kong where I could rest, a corner in a bookstore, or a bench in a park – somewhere I can escape from the world for a few minutes and be refreshed in the Father’s presence.

There’s a note in my Bible next to Psalm 4:1 that always makes me smile.  It reminds me of that day at my cousin’s wedding when the Lord gave me an unusual “room in my distress”:
2002, Chicago – You understand when I need some space!

Going Vertical!

MJ

866529_feedback_form_excellent1“It seems like you want people around you to fail.”

Gloria*, a visiting friend from California, was having tea with me in my East Asian apartment, and discussing my recent conflicts with my American roommate, Anna* –  But I felt defensive at Gloria’s gentle rebuke.  What do you mean, I want people to fail?  My roommate is the problem here, not me!

Fresh out of college, Anna had breezed into my life a few months earlier, bubbling over with enthusiasm.  Everything about her new life in our small East Asian town was wonderful and exciting.  Overnight, it seemed, Anna was “best friends” with the local staff and assistant teachers at our school.   She loved all the students and they all loved her, especially her little kindergarteners, who used to be in my classes.  Now Anna was their new favorite teacher.

I found myself becoming resentful toward Anna.  I grumbled inwardly about how easy it was for her to make friends, how quickly her students came to love her, how effortlessly she seemed to transition into this foreign culture.

Gloria was right.  I had started hoping Anna would fail.  If she didn’t do well, it would make ME look better.  After all, I’d been in this country for two years already.  I’d been investing in these relationships day after day, week after week, month after month.  I’d been teaching these kids way before she got there, and would most likely continue teaching them long after she left.  This was MY territory.  I was used to being the adored foreign English teacher.  And I didn’t like having my throne upset by this perky new arrival.

But sadly, I didn’t repent when Gloria confronted me.  I felt I was justified in my feelings.  So I stewed in my jealousy and resentment – and down the road, when Anna DID start to have problems with homesickness and culture shock and interpersonal conflicts… I secretly rejoiced.

It wasn’t until much later that I finally was convicted of my sinful attitude towards Anna.  I realized that I had taken my eyes off the Lord and had been comparing myself with Anna.  I needed to repent of my jealousy, and ask the Lord to forgive me for my prideful desire for attention and admiration.  He did, and He gave me a whole new perspective (His Wisdom) towards Anna and the whole situation.  It’s amazing how the Lord can transform your heart when you humble yourself and allow your appetite for significance to be satisfied in Him!

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts…such wisdom does not come down from heaven…but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere…”
James 3:14-18 (NIV)

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

* (not her real name)